(Didn’t hurt that Forecastle Festival founder J.K. McKnight was there, right?)
So it was fitting the Fast Dozen event was sponsored in part by Fight Club, a new cohort of young attorneys from Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, a group members describe as an internal think tank.
Unlike the Brad Pitt/Edward Norton cult film, Wyatt’s Fight Club has nothing to do with a bunch of guys brawling in back alleys.
Rather, Fight Club members – Cliff Ashburner, Peter Wayne, Steve Hall, Mark Farmer, Lisa DeJaco, Aaron Zibert and Roz Cordini – fight to shape the future, trying to create a community connector – an asset multiplier for the city – by focusing on the entrepreneurial community.
From Wyatt Chief Marketing Officer Andy Payton:
Fight Club is a multi-disciplinary group of lawyers at Wyatt, coming from the corporate, real estate, intellectual property, health care, litigation and estate planning service teams. It has invited in successful entrepreneurs to meet and discuss company-building strategies, and has developed loosely organized meet-ups for cocktails which allow for networking and relationship building. There are no fisticuffs involved!
“Fight Club” started as sort of an inside joke describing a group of Young Turks’ business development brainstorming sessions, Payton said.
It became Fight Club “because we didn’t know how other people would react to it,” said Cordini, a health care attorney. “Other members of the firm would walk past the room and say, ‘What’s going on in there?’ And we’d say, ‘First rule of Fight Club: Don’t talk about fight club. We can’t talk about it.’
“Now, the whole firm knows … and I think the firm is willing to take the risk.”
“Our firm has advised fast growth businesses and investors in the venture capital space for many years, but we still battle the perception that we’re only interested in buttoned-down established businesses,” said Ashburner, a Wyatt partner whose practice includes U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification process for sustainable design and construction. “The name ‘Fight Club’ is definitely counter-culture, and people seem intrigued by it. If an edgy name cuts through the clutter and makes people take notice, all the better.”
“We said, ‘If (Fight Club) gets peoples’ attention, let’s go with it,” Payton added. Everyone at the Fast Dozen event was talking about the group, he said. Had the attorneys dubbed themselves the Wyatt Small Business Incubator, “people would have said, ‘Who cares.'”
And the group definitely wants the city to pay attention. Louisville’s Fight Club does draw on the movie’s main motif: Inside each person lurks the courage and determination to change the arch of their lives.
It’s just that in the Fight Club’s case, they see forming an internal group as the first step toward fighting to define Louisville’s future: Moving beyond merely practicing law to collaborating with clients, helping them grow so they’ll bring talented people to Louisville. And that will in turn feed this virtuous circle.
“Right now, we recognize the potential of the entire community to both grow the economy and positively affect the city and lives of everyone in it,” said Ashburner.
“He and I are really passionate about Louisville,” said Wayne, who is part of Wyatt’s Trusts, Estates & Personal Planning Service practice.
Wayne said he and other Fight Club members see a city “on the verge (of growth) so many times,” but not quite achieving its potential.
“Look at the cities that are growing. They’re driven by entrepreneurism and an urban-centric mentality.”
Ashburner said he envisions a future dynamic where the Fight Club creates connections not necessarily exclusive to Wyatt, but to other people who can help clients grow.
“It’s a matter of saying, for example, ‘I know someone in the health care space. You know someone in the health care space,’ ” he said. “Let’s get them in a room for a beer and maybe something will come out of that regardless of whether it leads to business or not.”
Wayne sees the possibility to get beyond the scope of simply giving legal advice and helping clients connect to the people they need to know: “Collaboration is where the greatest ideas come from.”
The touchstone line from the film is: “The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Which, of course, is the perfect conversation starter. And part of the Wyatt marketing strategy (see above).
Wyatt’s Fight Club members are evangelical about what they see as their once-in-an-epoch moment to seize their destiny.
One of the underlying themes of Fight Club is, ” ‘Where would we be without the Ed Glasscocks, Wilson Wyatts and Cathy Dykstras in this community?’ ” Wayne said. “We want to build on the energy they created in a way that allows for (Louisville) to grow.”
Payton said retired Wyatt managing partner Gordon Davidson “was Ed Glasscock before Ed came along. Ed even noted the fact in a recent profile.”
In the 1960s, Gordon served as the attorney for “The Louisville Sponsoring Group,” which Payton describes as “a collection of titans of Louisville business.” LSG joined together, with Gordon as their lawyer, to sponsor and manage the early stages of Muhammad Ali’s career.
The group was profiled in an article in Sports Illustrated in 1963, as Ali’s career was getting ready to take off. (You can see the Sports Illustrated story here.)
Wayne says Fight Club’s opportunity in 2014 is to capture and focus the entrepreneurial/startup energy, spirit and passion. “To carry the torch to bring in cool companies and work with our new companies.”
Another defining line from the film is: “After Fight Club, we all started seeing things differently.”
Fight Club members want to focus on younger business, or more precisely, younger stage businesses and other community development efforts, said Ashburner, who is on the Energy team for Vision Louisville.
“We want to be in the action. We want to be helping drive the city forward. Government is one way to drive community,” Ashburner said. “But I think the business community is just as important. We can’t do much without both parties coming together.”
Cordini thinks the firm as a whole is buying in … that forging relations with entrepreneurs, many of whom ultimately will be successful, as well as with community expansion groups, is a good, long-term business plan.
“If that ends up with us being thought of 20 years from now as movers and shakers,” Wayne said, “so be it.”
About Wyatt Tarrant & Combs: Wyatt is a full-service regional law firm with approximately 200 lawyers and offices in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; New Albany, Indiana; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; and Jackson, Mississippi. Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs is a member of the DuPont Legal Network, Lex Mundi, the world’s leading association of independent law firms, and Advance Law.